Oh my god! This is it!! The LAST walk! I thought this post would never come. The last couple of weeks have been full of work, procrastination, laziness and holidays. It’s about time I got down to it and finished this up though because I have a new adventure starting soon! More on that later though… For now, may I present:
I’m not going to pretend to be cool here, I was absolutely jubilant on this walk. Everything I saw was beautiful. Every new discovery was magic. And everyone was my new best friend. It was heaven. I wish I could have that last-day-of-a-big-project feeling every day.
I can’t imagine a better place or a better day to end this challenge. I had a perfect mix of experiences: the Thames, quiet corners, bustling high streets, London icons and hidden secrets. My favourite place of the day was so charming that London Live used it as the backdrop for the interview they did with me a few days later (I was on TV!). I also found a Michelin star restaurant in an old toilet and a surgical theatre in the roof of an old church.
Lots to tell you about!
New Favourite Alley
I almost purposefully skipped this street right after I almost accidentally skipped it. My map shows only the tiniest hint of this place’s existence (a small dot that I missed entirely), so I wasn’t looking for it at all. When I spotted a narrow passage alongside a bike rack, I assumed it went into a service entrance filled with smokers taking their breaks. I normally don’t shy away from the gross places, but I did think twice about walking down that tiny alley. My curiosity finally compelled me to explore it though, and I am SO glad I did.
Gibbons Rents is a fantastically hidden part of London. It’s basically a grungy back alley that has been converted into a gorgeous public garden. There isn’t any dirt though, so the garden lives entirely out of pots. Anyone who wishes to can pitch in by donating a plant to the space. You just need to consult the handy map on the wall telling you the best spot to leave your plant depending on its sun/shade preference and that’s it. Everything else is taken care of.
Along with the pretty flowers and magnificent view of the Shard, I also loved the Little Library, a tiny closet full of books begging to be perused. A sign on the door encourages you to leave a book, take a book or both. I took two…I couldn’t help it. But I fully intend on donating some books here when I clean out my shelves in a few weeks.
If you are interested in learning more about the garden and who was involved in its creation, there’s a short video here with some good stuff in it.
There’s another video featuring the gardens that’s pretty dear to my heart too. After the amazing response to the Londonist article about my walks, I was contacted by London Live for an interview! Check it out here!
Worst Medical Experience
As I was walking along, I saw a respectably sized queue outside of an otherwise nondescript building, and wondered what they were waiting for. I probably wouldn’t have stopped long to linger except that as I passed by the foyer I saw this.
Yes. This a skull sculpture made from rusty, jagged surgical equipment. My curiosity was piqued.
It turns out this is The Old Operating Theatre, which is where, in 1846, poor folks who might not be able to afford it otherwise would go for their run of the mill amputation – without anaesthetics, of course. According to the museum’s website, because there was no way to numb patients in those days (beyond words of comfort and double shots of whiskey), surgeons became incredibly fast, performing amputations in under a minute.
The reason the patients here were typically poor is because, along with having their leg chopped off while they watched (seriously, can you even imagine that?), their surgery took place in front of a crowd. Throngs of medical students would squeeze into this small, unventilated, unheated torture chamber in the roof of an old Baroque church to watch the operation and learn about the latest medical techniques.
Those techniques consisted of hit-and-miss hand washing, aprons crusty with the pus and blood of previous patients and sawdust on the floor to soak up the blood during surgery. Rich people, on the other hand, would typically have surgery at home on their kitchen table. Marginally better, I suppose.
Best Accidental Find
My next find was far more appetising.
I happened upon it by complete accident. The books on the tables caught my eye as I wandered past the front window, but couldn’t see much more and it made me immensely curious. It was obviously a restaurant or café, but it was different somehow, and I had to see what it was all about.
Because I am a curious explorer, I have a tendency to walk in and ask “Excuse me. What is this place?” I get weird looks sometimes, but generally the people I meet are really nice. Considering that I happened to walk into a Michelin star restaurant (built-in an old public toilet), the hostess at Restaurant Story was more than nice. When I told her why it was I would walk in without knowing what it was, and about the project I was doing, she gave me a big glass of water and a personal tour of the place. It made my day.
The idea behind the restaurant is that every meal is a story, and they seek to tell a story through the food they serve. The chef finds inspiration from stories of his life and uses them to design the menu. He is obviously doing a good job of it because he earned his star only five months after opening.
Guests are asked add their story to the restaurant as well. They are encouraged to bring a book with them for their meal and, when they are finished, to write an inscription about why they chose that book, what experience they had during the meal, or whatever other story they want to share.
The books are added to the ever-growing collection that has spread to every part of the restaurant, even the toilets. The ones that make it on the main bookshelf are arranged by colour, which makes me happy beyond words.
Should I ever have the chance to eat a meal here, I would bring the book I found at Gibbon’s Rents (Astonishing Splashes of Colour) to donate after the meal. It seems fitting for so many reasons.
Back to the Beginning
And just like that, the story of these walks was over. The next thing I knew, I was meeting my parents at Tower Bridge to walk across and end where I started, the Tower of London.
I have crossed that bridge many times since I started this project, so I can’t lie and say that it was a sparkly, magical experience, but I certainly walked with more spring in my step than usual.
I thought maybe that Oh-my-god-I-did-it moment of giddiness might come when I saw the Tower again too, but I still felt like I was just having a really good day, nothing too unusual.
The big smile did come, in the end, but it wasn’t from any of these big London icons. It happened, as was fitting, with a friendly taunt from London. As we we made our way to the Thames Clipper ticket office I looked over to my right and saw the tease: a brand new street that had hadn’t been accessible when I started my walks.
Well played, London, well played.
The London explorer’s job is never done, it seems. And there is one question I am asked more than any other now that I am done with this project:
It seems like everyone wants me to carry on walking, to break out of the congestion zone and explore other neighbourhoods. I am really happy and genuinely humbled that so many people have enjoyed coming on this adventure with me and want to keep it going. I wish I could carry on in London and discover more of its secrets with you, but the gods of adventure are taking me in a totally new direction.
I found out last week that I will be leaving London in a few months. It’s a big change and not an easy move to make after four and a half years in this beautiful city. It’s been a crazy ride here, with many highs and lows, but I will miss it immensely. Having finished the walks though, I feel like I did as much as I possibly could with my time, and I am ready to move on and see what the next chapter brings.
Luckily (for both you and me), the next destination has a LOT of things to explore and I will certainly have a lot to share with you. That’s right folks, we’re moving to Oman! I am so excited to get there and wander around. I don’t know much about it at all, but from what I have been reading, I’ll have plenty to keep me busy.
So this might be the last walk of this adventure but there are plenty more to come! During my holidays I sorted through my photos, and I still have quite a lot to share with you about London here, so stay tuned. I’ve also set up a new site (Three Miles an Hour) to collect all my tales of our move to and adventures in Oman, so we can keep in touch when I’m away.
It’s been a great journey and I am so glad I got to go on it with you.
All the best,